20x34 East Texas Lakefront - Phase 1 8x14 Shed

Started by HoustonDave, December 27, 2010, 12:56:09 AM

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[NOTE that the cabin sizes have changed and are likely to change again as we find out the best use for the spot.  Update July 2011 - You will see discussion initially on buying one lot.  We closed in June on TWO lots instead so some of the plot layout on the first two pages is outdated but still may be of interest to you.]

To make sure everyone can find what they are looking for in this thread, whether reading from front to back or looking for something in particular, I'm going to turn this first post into a table of contents.

The build will be done in stages due to money and time.  We want to do as much of the work ourselves as possible, and we want to start small to prove that we can actually do the work. 

Get the land and plan.  http://countryplans.com/smf/index.php?topic=10025.msg128196#msg128196

That starts immediately below and takes up about 2 pages worth of posts.  Closing on the property took about 6 months due to the fact it is not a typical deed purchase.  Long story.  Note that all the early posts talk about buying one lot.  We later changed it to two lots to give us more land to work with.

Phase 0:  Utilities and Site Planning.  Go here - http://countryplans.com/smf/index.php?topic=10025.msg138682#msg138682

We have closed on the property, have access, water, and electricity onsite, and we have just finished mapping it out to plan out where to put the first structure.

Phase 1:  8x14 Shed.  (Coming up next)

We are planning on an 8x14 shed in the style of a small cabin in one corner of the property.  This will be used as a staging area for the next steps, and to give me time to remember my carpentry skills.

Phase 2:  Septic system. 

Because of the land and proximity to the lake, we will have to install an aerobic septic system.

Phase 3:  16x20 Cabin.

Probably in late 2011/early 2012, will build a small 16x20 or 16x24 cabin with loft.  We want it to be as small as we can stand.  The goal is to get a structure onsite so we can really enjoy the property and again to test the limits of my skills.

Phase 4:  Dock. 

Probably in late 2012, we will build a dock for easier lake access.

Phase 5:  ~20x34 Cabin. 

Probably in 2013 or 2014 we will build the final cabin.  Probably about 20x34 and 2-stories.
My lakefront cabin project in East Texas


Just because something has been done and has not failed, doesn't mean it is good design.


Thanks Don!

Part 1:  What we were looking for.

I grew up in the foothills of Arkansas.  Four acres of sandy, rocky, hilly bliss surrounded by undeveloped land with a creek running across it.  It was pure heaven.  I remember spending summers grubbing in the creek, building little mini damns, climbing and falling out of trees.

Now I've got kids of my own, and I've spent the last 20 years living on the coastal flood plains of Louisiana and Texas.  I live 70 feet above sea level and that's considered high ground.  I want hills and water that isn't brown.  I want dirt with rocks in it!  And even more, I want my kids to have a place where they can grub in the water and climb (and fall out of) trees.

So I went out searching for land, preferably within 3 hours drive, preferably on a lake, that I could afford to buy now instead of saving up for 10 years.  I started out looking at all the "big name" lakes near Houston and worked my way outward.

Lake Houston was out.  Too flat, too muddy, too expensive.

Lake Conroe was way out.  The lots are all "developed" into real subdivisions, and the cheapest started at $60-80k for less than an acre.

Lake Livingston was out.  I could find lots on the extreme north end (2 hours away) but they were really Trinity River bottoms at the upper end, not quite lake, and IMO mostly reclaimed mud flat.  And that was for $40-50k for less than an acre.

All of the Corp of Engineer lakes are pretty much out.  Either too far, or you can't develop the lakefront and can't build a dock, or too expensive.  

So I started digging into smaller lakes.  Some were resort-quality and even worse.  One place wanted $160,000 for a one acre unimproved lot... :P

Finally I found two places.  One was a set of lakes near Woodville, TX.  The other was a small private lake near Palestine, TX.  More on that next post.
My lakefront cabin project in East Texas


Part 2:  Picking the Spot

As I mentioned previous post, I found two spots in my price range that were:

-On a lake
-With some slope nearby
-Not in a manicured subdivision

One was a set of lakes near Woodville, TX.  The other was a small private lake near Palestine, TX (pronounced "Pal-uh-steen").

The Woodville land had pros and cons.  On the pros it was closer, and a plain land purchase.  And it wasn't overly manicured.  On the cons it was big...like 2000 landowners and 5 small lakes.  There were lots behind lots behind lots.  A bit too crowded for my taste and not quite as hilly or rocky as I wanted.

The Palestine land had pros and cons too.  The price was right, $25k for a half acre on the lake.  Paved road, 118' of lakefront you can build a dock on, no ski boats or jet skis allowed, electricity available at the road, private water system at the road, no building requirements other than septic permits, a swim area for the kids, and no public access to the lake or the properties.  On the cons side, it was not an outright purchase.  It was a fishing club that owned the property in common as a corporation.  By buying the property, you became a member of the club and a part owner of the club with the right to use and develop the lot you 'purchased'.  I've spoken with others here who have had property like this, and am satisfied that if done right it can be a good thing.  But if done wrong it can be a big mess.

What it comes down to is, you get what you pay for.  You want lakefront property within 3 hours of Houston?  Be prepared to make some concessions unless you are willing to pay $50-70k or more for a half acre.  So we are in the process of buying the Palestine lot.  We're keeping our fingers crossed, but if it craters we'll go back and find something else even if it means spending a bit more.
My lakefront cabin project in East Texas


Part 3:  The lay of the land

So here's what we're buying.  This is a panoramic view of the lot.  

It's about 120' of lakefront and roadfront on the short ends, and about 220' bordering the lots on either side.  There are no lots on the other side of the road.  This view is a patched-together panoramic taken from the middle of the lot about 30' from the road.  It gives you about a 300 degree view.  The car is parked at my back left corner, and the shot pans to the other corner to my back right.  You can see the lot has some slope (about 50' drop over 220') and has mature white oak and post oak, along with a bit of cedar and dogwood.  It's also been underbrushed already.

A few more pics, to get a feel for the lay of the lot.

Next post will have some sketchup drawings of the landscape.
My lakefront cabin project in East Texas


Part 3:  The Lay of the Land

I used Google Sketchup 8 (which is a FREE 3D modeling program) to create this diagram.

This is a reasonably accurate model of the landscape.  If you know what you are doing you can do something like this in minutes.  It's a very user-friendly and powerful software.

I took a topo map of the area and made it a background (you can see it as a dark patch under the model) then traced the contour lines which created a flat image of each contour.  Then I grabbed each one and raised it 10' to make a stacked, then I hit a button that turned it into a landscape.  The trees were imported from their 3D library, and the cabin is to see scale, not a finished mode and not necessarily going in that spot.

Here's another view.

As you can see from the sketch and from the photos, the land has a "shelf" up at the road level, then drops off about 10-15' steeply, then gradually slopes down to the water.  Right now, looks like we'll build about halfway down the slope.
My lakefront cabin project in East Texas


Dave there is a lot to digest in your post.  Even with a good explanation it is hard to determine the best possible solution.  Once you have determine which lot is best suited to your needs the cabin/house placement is your next step.  I generally would pick the levelist portion for the cabin.  I would try to avoid steep sloped areas.   But I am from a snow region and my reasoning is different for ease of access in the winter.  I am not a big fan of Post/peir construction and would choose a blocked foundation.  Depending on your finances if you did choose a slightly sloped area I would probably block the foundation to utilize the same footprint for a storage area or basement living space.  That would provide a walk out to the ground level.  An accompaning deck on the lake side would be a plus over the entrance/exit to the basement.  In one of your photos it depicts your car in an area that looks ideal.  It is good that you have a established road for building material access unlike some who have to build and develope their own.  

By building your house closer to the lake it would provide an easier access to it but complicate access to your cabin.  In the real world of lot developement/constuction there is a give-an-take.  For me I would choose to have easy access to the cabin on a daily basis and a longer walk to the lake on occassion. High level  ground also gives me more piece of mind with a foundation being dryer and less possibility of things shifting due to spring water or run off.

Well I don't think I have really helped but it is my $.02 worth.  Good Luck.


Thanks Red.  Much appreciated.

I've gotten various opinions on location.  Some things to consider:

I don't have a sturdy dirt-road vehicle.  Both vehicles are low to the ground 'city cars'.  That means that to access the cabin I would either have to:
-build it at the top level spot so walking is easy from top parking
-build at the start of the downslope so walking is easy from top parking
-build it downslope and build extensive stairs down to it
-build a high-quality (expensive) graded drive downslope to it

The view in the winter is going to be great regardless, and top of slope gives a good lookout, but in the spring and summer the foliage will block most of the view of the lake if I build up top.  I don't want to cut trees to get a better view!

The top spot will require ZERO tree removal.  The downslope spots will require a few smaller ones to be removed.

The top spot is closer to the property line.  If I move downslope, I can move farther away from the neighbor's property line.  He hasn't built yet and I don't know what his plans are.  I need to contact him and coordinate location most likely so we are both happy with the result.

Most websites recommend that for "atmosphere" you want to not build at the very top or very bottom, but at the start of the slope near the top or bottom.  Folks here have also given a variety of suggestions, which I really appreciate.  The more info I have on pros and cons, the more comfortable I'll feel with my final decision. 

My lakefront cabin project in East Texas


Part 4:  Soil Composition

This is not based on a site soil survey, but on a general composition for the area.  I'll need to get a real survey done or crib off a neighbor's. 
Anyone know how to interpret this??  ???

Area Soil Information:

TkF—Trawick fine sandy loam, 8 to 20 percent slopes

Map Unit Setting
•   Elevation: 350 to 650 feet
•   Mean annual precipitation: 42 to 52 inches
•   Mean annual air temperature: 64 to 68 degrees F
•   Frost-free period: 235 to 250 days

Map Unit Composition
•   Trawick and similar soils: 80 percent
•   Minor components: 20 percent

Description of Trawick

•   Landform: Interfluves
•   Landform position (two-dimensional): Backslope
•   Landform position (three-dimensional): Side slope
•   Down-slope shape: Linear
•   Across-slope shape: Linear
•   Parent material: Clayey residuum weathered from glauconitic sandstone

Properties and qualities
•   Slope: 8 to 20 percent
•   Depth to restrictive feature: 20 to 51 inches to paralithic bedrock
•   Drainage class: Well drained
•   Capacity of the most limiting layer to transmit water (Ksat): Moderately high (0.20 to 0.57 in/hr)
•   Depth to water table: More than 80 inches
•   Frequency of flooding: None
•   Frequency of ponding: None
•   Available water capacity: Moderate (about 7.1 inches)

Interpretive groups
•   Land capability (nonirrigated): 6e

Typical profile
•   0 to 5 inches: Fine sandy loam
•   5 to 51 inches: Clay
•   51 to 59 inches: Bedrock

Minor Components
Unnamed, minor components

Map unit symbol: TkF
Map unit name: Trawick fine sandy loam, 8 to 20 percent slopes
Rating:  Somewhat limited
Component name (percent)  Trawick (80%)
Rating reasons (numeric values)    High Slope (0.96) and Shrink-Swell (0.50)

Clay Content:  39.6%
Plasticity Index 22.3
My lakefront cabin project in East Texas


Well it looks like you have a lot of decisions to make Dave.  That is what I was talking about as far as the "give an take" issues.  If you have a buffer zone between the lots It wouldn't bother me to build at one corner of the lot.  Even if there was not one in place it could be developed within a few years with the proper placement of fast growing species of trees.  

IMO the first two options would seem most appealing.  Maintenance on the downward stairs and road could be a daunting task over the years.  Not to mention later in life when age might effect your ability to to gain access to your cabin where the first two options could be made to accomidate easy access.  

Another couple of factors to consider is water, septic and power.  If you do not have city water and sewage this might determine the the location due to building a septic field and well in accordance with local codes to give the applicable distances from the cabin.

It is a balancing act to consider all the aspects of your build that you will be comfortable with not only asthetics but functionality as well as financial ability.

Look forward to your decisions and your work as it progresses.



My lakefront cabin project in East Texas


Part 5: Cabin Placement Preplanning

Keep in mind that a lot of factors can cause this to change.  First of all, there is the septic system placement requirements, which could impact it significantly.  Second is location of trees.  I threw some into the model based on memory, but the actual amount is easily 10x those shown and locations are approximate.  The slope is pretty accurate as shown, but I haven't done a detailed profile yet.

Right now we are looking at a two phase build.

Phase 1:  A 12x18 Cabin based on CountryPlans 12x18 small house plan at the top of the property close to the road.  Originally we had thought to do a 16x24 and then expand, but we've decided that is too ambitious for our time and driving distance.  The intent now is to build the SMALLEST cabin we could see ourselves using as simply and quickly as possible on the easiest part of the lot.  This will allow us to immediately begin using the property, and will give us a base of operations when we start the bigger building.

Phase 2:  A 20x30 Cabin based on CountryPlans 20x30 1.5 story and taking inspiration from the work Larry and Nevada Mike have done.  Both of their cabins are gorgeous and the porches and dormers really expand the living space and meld them with the land.  The intent here is to take our time to get to know the land and then to build the larger cabin "just so".  We can't do that if we feel like we are rushed to get "something" up.

You can find info on Nevada Mike's here:

And Larry's can be accessed through a link on this page:

and here:

The series of Google Sketchup drawings below are to help us see what we have to work with, and how the locations will work.


Phase 1 is a modified 12x18 with taller walls and a porch added onto the front.  (The roof slope shown is not accurate.)  We want it as close to the road and the flat area at the top as possible, but tucked in a corner so it doesn't interfere with wherever we might end up putting the larger structure.  The people and car are to scale and are shown to give perspective.


Next post will show where both cabins are likely to end up on the lot.
My lakefront cabin project in East Texas


Following are two sets of Google Sketchup drawings showing two possible placements for the 20x30 1.5 story.  Note that right now it has about 10' wraparound porch shown (props to Larry and Nevada Mike).  We might have to adjust that based on lot limitations.  Of course, we could always buy more land!  ;)

OPTION A:  Right at the edge of the upper shelf.  

This one is easier, cheaper, and avoids some tricky work with tall posts or excavation / retaining wall.  Cons are, the view will not be as nice in the spring because foliage will block off most of the lake view, and the walk down to the water will involve 150 feet out and 50 feet down.

Overhead view.  North is toward the top of the picture.  The fence does not (and will not) exist, but was put into the drawing to better see property lines.

View from the water looking upslope.  The cabin is about 24" off the ground, but the porch overhangs the slop and some of those posts are 15' tall.

View from the road.

OPTION B:  Halfway downslope.  

Better views of the water.  The walk from is split.  75' from the road and 75' from the water.  Cons are some godawful tall posts under the cabin (up to 15' tall) OR some serious excavation and retaining wall on the upslope side .   :o

Overhead view

View from the water

View from the road

Comments and suggestions welcome.  That's why I'm posting all this.   ;D
My lakefront cabin project in East Texas


   15 foot posts . . .    I would reconsider that.

   While a deck overlooking the lake would be nice . . .    Consider the deck on the side of the cabin or a separate deck that would be at a lower elevation.

    . . . said the focus was safety, not filling town coffers with permit money . . .


I echo bayview on those stilts. I would not want to do them without an engineers okay and stamp on the plan. I imagine you would need a mess of bracing to make it work at all and that would detract from the appearance. It boggles my mind.
Just because something has been done and has not failed, doesn't mean it is good design.


Loud and clear.

Another option is moving the house backward further onto the shelf until the deck post lengths get reasonable, eh?  You two aren't the only one looking at that and thinking "brick perched on toothpicks".

I believe it was Glenn that suggested shifting from post and pier to footing and concrete, and I know Bayview suggested the uphill wall be concrete.  Once I have a detailed contour of the lot done, I'll have a better feel for the drop.  There may be a portion of the slope that is less dramatic.

This is one reason for the 2-phase approach.  I'm really going to need time to get a feel for the land and what I can do with it, and the best way to do that is to build something small on it first.

Anything can be made to work with enough $$$ of course.  I know someone with a "camp" on Lake Calcasieu in Louisiana whose house is 30' in the air on (what looks like) 24"x24" posts driven wayyyy underground to bedrock.  The 'camp' is probably over 1500 SF.

I don't have that kind of money.  ;)

So how big of posts, and how high, would you guys feel comfortable doing for a post-pier foundation?  What if it was just the deck?
My lakefront cabin project in East Texas


Question. Are you allowed to move earth? We moved earth to level out the spot where our cabin rests. If we had not done that one corner would have been 5 feet or maybe a tad more off the ground.

That was more height than I wanted. The way it sits I have about 12 inches of post between beam and ground level. 6x6 posts, 6 inch wide beam (true measurements).

I have bunk house plans that I may build if we can sell the old RV in spring. The position for it will need some ground leveling or piers on one side with approximately three feet above ground. If I do that they will have 4 feet or a tad more in the ground and lots of through bolted bracing in both the x and y directions.
Just because something has been done and has not failed, doesn't mean it is good design.


Thanks for the examples on your posts and heights.  That gives me a feel for it.  I'm going to end up running my plans past an engineer (promise) but I want to have it as far from stupid beforehand.

We are allowed to move earth, but I don't look forward to it (grin).

Part of my motivation is the same reason I am spending extra money on an aerobic septic.  The lot has some real nice tall oaks on it.  Building a leach field on that slope would be a bear and involve damaging a lot of trees.  An aerobic system would allow me to do away with the leach field and use spray-heads instead. 

Likewise doing a lot of earth moving would risk smothering root systems nearby.  I'm trying to do minimal impact if possible cause I sure like them trees. :)

Only rule I've seen on lot landscaping is:

#1 Once you clear a lot of underbrush, you have to keep it clear.  If you leave it natural, you don't have to maintain it.
#2 You can cut up to 25% of trees on your lot without asking anyone.

Also, I just spoke with the seller.  He says that "if you stay 50+ feet from the shore, the soil is a mix of iron ore rock, sand, and clay" and he says they have not had significant issues with clay swell/contraction settling even on shallow (12-16") piers over at least 10 year period.  So that is promising.
My lakefront cabin project in East Texas


Quote from: HoustonDave on December 29, 2010, 06:46:27 PM

#1 Once you clear a lot of underbrush, you have to keep it clear.  If you leave it natural, you don't have to maintain it.

I look at underbrush as a fire waiting to happen. We've cleared virtually all of ours for that reason. We have a patch of gambrel oak (sometimes known as gambel oak) that we have made a bit of an exception for, but even that we are judiciously thinning in order to promote the health of the larger trees.  It is the only native hardwood we have in NM as far as I know.

Just something to think about when considering the natural look. Underbrush also competes for water with the trees, which is perhaps more of an issue for us than you and many others.
Just because something has been done and has not failed, doesn't mean it is good design.


I'm all for the "cleared underbrush" look as well.  The seller already cleared it, so it has to stay that way now.  Smallest stuff is the dogwood.  I can't wait to see that in springtime.

My lakefront cabin project in East Texas


I haven't digested the whole thread, but here's a couple comments:

Since the lot slope is north facing, I question both the location down the slope and the porch on the south side.

The further down the slope you go the more winter sun light you will lose.

Also why put a porch at all on the upper/south side?  The porch roof will shade a bunch of winter sun and reduce light into the cabin as well as solar gain.  I would think that you will be spending most time outside on the lake side or on the ends to either avoid or take advantage of the sun.

If outside space is desired on the south/road side, maybe a deck would be better?

One more comment:  I don't share the concern about the height of the porch pier posts; they would be pretty easy to brace.


Thanks Poppy.  Talked your suggestion over (hard to argue with your reasoning) and we will omit the porch from the South side and probably scale it back on the East and West as well.  This will reduce the overall footprint and give us more flexibility on the site, and will shorten the post height.

One other item, the 3D model you saw in this thread is a little misleading.   I limited it to the area around the property lines.  While there is a nice level spot at road level that extends out a good 50', that is not the top of the slope.  The top of the hill is another 100 feet higher up the slope from the road.

My lakefront cabin project in East Texas


   Have you closed on the property?   Is it yours?

    . . . said the focus was safety, not filling town coffers with permit money . . .


Still in process!  I spect it will take a while to line everything out.
My lakefront cabin project in East Texas


Headed to the site today to do a rough site survey for tree location and a better slope profile analysis. Got a homemade inclinometer, string level, story stick, homemade horizontal angle scale, tape reel, and sundry.   Plan is to start at high corner and roughly plot tree positions based on angle from property line and distance, then measure drop to grade at each tree to get a better slope profile than USGS gives me.

My lakefront cabin project in East Texas